On April 12, Street Children Day, my mind grappled with the statistic. An unbelievable 100 million youngsters in the world, living in the shadows, now stand in the light for all to see. Not just the rising toll of Syrian orphans who have lost their parents in war, but those waifs who eke out an existence in the metro areas of America with shattered childhoods due to poverty, family breakdown or addicted caretakers. Kids who find the streets with its perils of gangs and disease preferable to abusive homes. One out of every 45 children in the United States is homeless, hungry, in poor health and missing educational opportunities.
What can be done to help them?
There are organizations all over the world who try to reach out to these homeless wanderers: World Vision, The Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, Children of the Night, UNICEF, Bed and Bread Club, as well as denominational orphanages and schools. Many adults volunteer time or money to these causes. But the need is overwhelming as hunger, depression, violence, sexual exploitation, and death encircle these unprotected victims.
History is filled with ordinary people who attempted to make the life of street children better. Gladys Aylward served in China just before WWII, taking in orphaned Chinese children until she needed to transport one hundred of them across Asian mountains to safety from the Japanese Army. Thomas Barnardo started a career as a teacher for ragged boys, then built a system of orphanages in Great Britain that house needy children to this day. George Mueller ran his British orphanages on faith alone for the finances, leaving those who read his biography amazed at God’s provision. Amy Carmichael worked among the homeless, abandoned, unwanted girls of India, rescuing even those whose parents sold them to the temples. History is replete with these individuals with hearts bigger than common sense.
In the United States, the largest placing out of street children involved the orphan trains. Between the mid 1850’s to 1930, over 200,000 children left New York City for the homes of farmers in the Great Plains and Midwest. That is nearly 300 street kids every month for 70 years leaving the Big Apple. And nobody seemed to notice, because the supply of wandering ragged youngsters kept growing as cholera swept through apartment buildings, despair took the lives of adults, or alcoholism created an abusive situation for a minor. Charles Loring Brace and his staff gathered these homeless waifs from the heating grates, rooftops, barrels and carts. The agents of the Children’s Aid Society found church sponsored homes for the children, creating the foundations of the present foster care system in this country.
But the problem is current. Ellen Bassuk, president of the National Center on Family Homelessness states: “If you believe that children are the future of our country, then you should be concerned because these homeless children have gradually become a prominent part of a third world that is emerging in our own backyard.”
Today, Street Children’s Day creates unsettling feelings because it reminds me that there is a broken and hurting world lurking in the shadows of everyday life.
The cries of these children haunt my darkened bedroom when I try to sleep. My husband and I grow vegetables in a community garden for eight local food pantries that supply needy families and soup kitchens. As a speaker and writer, my goal is to use words to raise consciousness about homelessness among the most vulnerable. But, in the back of my mind, a question replays continually.
What else can be done for Street Children?
Books by Cleo Lampos
Rescuing Children: Teachers, Social Workers, Nuns and Missionaries Who Stepped in the Shadows to Rescue Waifs
A Mother’s Song: A Novel of the Orphan Train
Cultivating Wildflowers – Foster children